January 1, 2018
Swing is a state of mind. Zoot-suit wearing revivalists recreating Glen Miller or Count Basie arrangements note-for-note no more define the joyous empathy that was (is?) swing than formalists playing authentic instruments while wearing period costumes define Baroque sounds. Instead this Dutch quartet epitomizes the foot-tapping worldliness of the best players of the 1930s and 1940s even though the repertoire is 100 per cent Misha Mengelberg (1935-2017) pianist and erstwhile leader of the ICP Orchestra. While Mengelberg’s thorny compositions are usually thought of as having as little do with pre-modern Jazz as Cary Grant would have with a dusty Western film, they reveal their adaptability in this situation.
Cross-generational and un-self-conscious the band includes two players who are from the new mainstream-cool side of the fence and two veterans who would have experienced the tail end of the Swing Era. Pianist Peter Beets, 46, has worked with certified American status quo preservers as Rodney Whitaker and Herlin Riley. Tenor saxophonist Benjamin Herman, figurehead of New Cool Collective has played with everyone from Candy Dulfer to the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Record producer and Bop Era bassist Ruud Jacobs, 79, worked with everyone from Johnny Griffin to Stan Getz and produced such non-Jazz people as Jan Akkerman and André Rieu. Wild card in the deck is drummer Han Bennink, 74, who besides being Mengelberg’s closest collaborator over the years has worked with everyone from Peter Brötzmann to Derek Bailey. No one doubts the older musicians’ adaptability, while in the past Beets has recorded with Jacobs and Herman with Mengelberg.
Perhaps the late pianist’s sense of humor would have prepared him for the un-self-conscious variants of his works here. Herman’s wide, slurpy tone come across as a lovechild of Peter Brown’s and Louis Jordan’s styles, while Beets’ percussive this-side-of honky-tonk features are most modern in an Oscar Peterson way, most traditional à la Earl Hines and on ballads is more Teddy Wilson than Bill Evans. All the seven performances are also very much of a piece. Whether Mengelberg imagined that “Driekusman Total Loss” would fit with Herman quoting from “Jumping with Symphony Sid” and “Bye Bye Blackbird” for instance is a moot point. It certainly does here. Or consider “Hypochristmastreefuzz”, which Mengelberg and Bennink recorded wit Eric Dolphy years before either of the younger musicians here was born. Peppy and poppy Beets goes full-out Oscar Peterson, the drummer clangs, ruffs and clamps and rebounds in a Big Sid Catlett manner and Herman’s reed notes are smeared and sharpened.
Jacobs get to prove that his double bass skill is undiminished by age as he roams up and down the strings in pure Swing mode on “Blues After Piet”. Emphasizing his instrument’s higher ranges the pianist combines elegance and exhortation, leaning towards R&B compimg. Plus when he’s not paraphrasing the glissandi in “Rhapsody in Blue” – as he does on “Who’s Bridge” – the saxophonist’s double-time narrative resembles Lester Young’s sax timbres, with the added reminder of why Pres was emulated by as many honking tenorists as cool players. Almost every track is also a showcase for Bennink’s untrammeled bomb-dropping, cymbals clanking stance.
Descriptions and comparison could go on ad infinitum. But overall not only does Quartet NL confirm the skill of each player in many evolutionary Jazz styles, but it also opens up a whole new repertoire for Swing bands that want to mix challenges with fun.
Track Listing: 1. Driekusman Total Loss 2. Blues After Piet 3. The Romantic Jump Of Hares 4. Hypochristmastreefuzz 5. The Laughing Dwarf 6. Who's Bridge? 7. Rollo 2
Personnel: Benjamin Herman (alto saxophone); Peter Beets (piano); Ruud Jacobs (bass) and Han Bennink (drums)